Sunday, April 10, 2011

Dipper Survey Phase 2 and A Mystery at Milepost 3

Saturday was the second rainless day in a row so we headed up Agency Creek Road to see if our Dipper pairs had begun nesting. Johnny dropped me off about 1/4 mile up the road so I could hike in to the first suspected nest site. Sure enough, a Dipper was standing on a midstream log, singing his unending song near the rock wall that looked like a good nest site to me back in January. The female and the nest, I figured, must be close. The bird's singing seemed more agitated as I drew near, so I skirted around upstream to where I could view the rock wall and the Dipper, who had flown to a rock farther downstream. I assumed the nest was in the vicinity of the distant Dipper and I would not be a bother, yet could still see if the female appeared from a nest site.

Soon another Dipper appeared, but I didn't see from where. The two chased one another upstream... landing on a ledge of the rock wall directly across from where I was leaning against a tree at stream side. Within a few seconds, one flew up and dove into a hidden cavity beneath ferns hanging over the cliff. If they saw me, they didn't seem to care. Dumb luck had put me right across the stream from the nest. The bird's partner kept vigil on a ledge below, perfectly camouflaged against the rocks.

The next potential nest site I had identified in January was at The Chutes, the local name for a narrow channel through the rocks. As I climbed down the steep rocky bank from the road and pulled myself over a large boulder next to the creek, a Dipper screamed indignantly from what sounded like right under me. Perhaps it had been because when finally spotted, it was taking a bath in water next to The Chutes. After a few minutes, it flew downstream and was joined by another Dipper. They then both disappeared somewhere without, as near as I could tell, flying to get there. I will go back and check that spot on a later day, when they might be feeding babies and traveling to and from the nest frequently.

And then came Milepost 3, where we have almost always found Dippers. Milepost 3 is about a mile upstream from The Chutes and 1 1/2 miles downstream from a known nest site. The Dippers we see at Milepost 3 could be one of those pairs... or not. This time of year, pairs are sticking close to their nest areas with one on the nest and the other standing guard. I climbed down the bank hopeful of finding a Dipper hanging out somewhere near a rock wall or other suitable nesting place. Alas, I could not find a really suitable nest area, nor a Dipper. After ten minutes or more, when I was about to try a new spot, a Dipper appeared way upstream from where I was perched. Whether it had been there all along or not, I have no idea. As I watched through my binoculars, it flew directly toward me. I assumed it would fly past me to wherever its nest might be. I lost it in the binoculars and when I tried to see where it had gone, it wasn't anywhere. After another five or ten minutes, I gave up and stood to climb to the road. A Dipper flew out from somewhere just in front and across the creek from me, disappearing upstream. In the fifteen additional minutes I waited, no Dipper reappeared. The mystery of Milepost 3 would have to wait to be solved... hopefully... another day.

The nest upstream from Milepost 3 that we've known about for several years had its resident pair of Dippers on duty and one kindly, as I watched, flew into the same nest spot it has used in the past. The other stood on a rock in plain view. I love cooperative birds.

A few miles upstream, the pair that nests near Asinine Bridge were nowhere to be found that day. I thought I heard singing but never saw the singer. We'll have to wait until they might be feeding nestlings and hope for better luck. This picture shows the stretch of creek where the Dippers should have been with Johnny's van parked near the bridge. It is a wild and lovely stretch of water and conveniently close to the road. However, the steep bank does not allow access so birds can sit out of view on the rocks at the road side of the creek... and sing unseen.

The final known nest at the end of my self-created route did not fail. We had seen a Dipper carry moss to the nest earlier in the week with our friends from Tillamook, so it was no surprise to see one Dipper on its favorite rock, keeping a watchful eye on me.

Agency Creek and the wild flowers that line its banks are beautiful. American Dippers... and rainless spring days... are a bonus.

No comments:

Post a Comment